Third- and fourth-degree perineal lacerations occur frequently during operative vaginal deliveries. To identify risk factors for lacerations, 2832 consecutive forceps and vacuum extraction deliveries were analyzed. Third- and fourth-degree lacerations occurred in 30% of deliveries. Multiple logistic regression was used to control for intercorrelation between potential risk factors. Factors associated with increased risk for third- and fourth-degree lacerations were midline episiotomy, nulliparity, second-stage arrest, occipitoposterior position, low or mid station, use of forceps instead of vacuum, use of local anesthesia, and Asian race. When these factors were controlled, there was no effect of birth weight, faculty versus resident operator, gestational age, abnormalities of first-stage labor, or several other factors. Prevention of perineal lacerations requires that the operator identify the patient at risk. Possible options for management of high-risk patients include use of mediolateral episiotomy or no episiotomy, use of vacuum extraction instead of forceps, and use of conduction anesthesia.